The streets of London were slick with rain after we ran out from under the shelter of Her Majesty’s Theatre. My dad hailed a taxi driver and dragged my mother and me in tow behind him. We covered ourselves with overpriced musical brochures and, after the taxi nearly ran into a slow pedestrian on the corner, we finally snagged a ride. “Hello,” the driver greeted us, glittering eyes peering curiously at our reflection and then back, quickly, to London’s nighttime streets, “and who are these two lovely ladies?”
I cringed, pulling my jacket out of my bag and wrapping it tightly around me, feeling suddenly exposed in my fancy dress. I always got this question since I was multiracial and looked a little different from both my parents. They assumed I was a friend or a distant relation.
Noticing my discomfort, my dad shifted next to me. “She’s my daughter, and this is my wife.” My father replied.
Not being one for long silences, my dad immediately launched into a good-natured spiel on London weather compared to our weather back home in Chicago. After discussing some charming frivolities on tennis matches, immaculate architecture, and centuries-old parks, my dad finally centered the conversation around the most awkward topic for any self-respecting teenager: me.
“She’s an author.” My dad told him, beaming with pride.
The driver went silent, let out a laugh that sounded fairly derisive, and then replied, “Ah, how positively adorable. What do you write, sweetheart, sappy summer romances?”
I looked him straight in the eye, pulled my head back, and enunciated the next line, “No, historical biographies.”
And the cab went silent.
Okay, that was a lie. First of all, there is nothing wrong with writing about romances. My book, “The Funnyman” is an adventure, a fantasy YA novel with a dash of romance. But the question he asked me had been loaded with stereotypes that made me feel ashamed of calling myself a writer at all. You cannot judge a writer based on their looks or gender, but instead, you judge them on their minds. You judge them on the worlds and the stories they create inside their heads, masterpieces that are sometimes inseparable from a writer’s very soul. But there’s this stigma around women writers that affects all of us. And he judged me as a “cute writer”, but not a serious one.
Feminine scribblers. That’s one of the titles they used to call us. Historically, women had to assume pen names with male pseudonyms just to get published. But that stigma is still around women today. There’s the obvious pay gap and professional gap. And it still exists. Yes, just because women get published, doesn’t mean we still don’t get stigmatized. Author photos, for instance, can get a woman ripped apart based on her looks, her dress, her mannerisms. Is she smiling? She’s overconfident. Is she not smiling? She’s stuck-up.
The first work I sent out as an eighth grader was a poem I published on the internet. I pulled it down, near tears, on the same day. The comments were harsh and incredibly degrading. “Stick to vampire novels and crying over boy bands”, the comments exclaimed. Or, one said simply, “Dear God, get your writing off of here, girly girl, and stop being over-emotional in how you write. You cannot write. For our sake, you should not write.”
As I said before, writing is inseparable from a writer’s soul.
So, luckily, I had a very resilient soul. I ended up getting my first novel-to-be-trilogy published as a seventeen-year old. These days, I’m no longer ashamed to call myself a writer. I’m a writer and I’m a seventeen-year old girl all at the same time. And I’m proud of it.
Find me at: http://sophiawhittemore.com/
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Have you ever been told you can't because you're a girl?
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